Council delays more Glanbrook homes until flooding questions answered

Hamilton city councillors have put off dealing with a large subdivision extension in Glanbrook, saying they can't approve more homes until they investigate why existing ones are flooding.
Flooding on Jan. 12 sent this car into a ditch on Airport Road East. City councillors are examining how to prevent flooding in areas such as Glanbrook and Stoney Creek. (Courtesy Erin Court)

Hamilton city councillors have put off dealing with a large subdivision extension in Glanbrook, saying they can't in good conscience approve more homes until they investigate why existing ones are flooding.

Members of the city planning committee voted Tuesday to defer dealing with a new development known as the Binbrook Heights addition. The roughly 178 homes would be built at 139 Fall Fair Way, near where residents have experienced flooding twice in the past year.

The Binbrook Heights addition includes:

113 single detached dwelling lots

32 lots for street townhouses

9 blocks set aside for six single detached dwellings, 15 street townhouse dewllings and about 12 townhouse units

The first flooding incident was July 22, when a "hundred-year storm" exceeded the ability of city infrastructure to deal with the massive rainfall, said Sally Yong-Lee, manager of infrastructure planning.

The second was Jan. 12, which was the 17th time since 2005 that flooding was major enough that the city provided "compassionate grants" to homeowners.

The problem has been particularly bad in Glanbrook and upper Stoney Creek.

Coun. Brenda Johnson of Ward 11 said she couldn't explain the new development to constituents when the city is still investigating why the flooding happened. She moved to defer both reports until city staff examines the issue more closely.

Compassionate grant payments for flooded homes: a sample

July 26, 2005: 601 grants, total $403,854

May 25, 2007: 45 grants, $30,199.19

Aug. 1, 2008: 309 grants, $110,784

July 26, 2009: 4,125 grants, $3,079,128

Sept. 28, 2010: 111 grants, $87,191.19

July 22, 2012: 218 grants, $164,000

Total from 2005 to 2012: 7,492 grants, $5,156,060

It's hard to sell to the expansion to residents "when we still haven't finished investigating the flooding that happened on July 22 and again on Jan. 9," she said.

Some work done

City staff presented a report to the committee at Tuesday's meeting. It had hired the AMEC consulting firm to study what has caused the flooding and how it can be fixed.

Causes included incorrect manhole covers, improper catch basin connections, cracks and open joints in the sewer system and improper plumbing connections, Yong-Lee said.

The city has plugged pickaxe holes in manhole covers and corrected some potential flooding sources, she said. It continues to seal open joints in the sewers.

In the future, staff will conduct dye testing to ensure that new homes are properly connected to the sewer system before residents move in, she said. Staff will also educate homeowners on how to reduce basement flooding.

Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9 listed more than a dozen streets affected by flooding in his Stoney Creek ward. He wants the city to develop one model to predict and handle storms.

Currently, it uses five models developed before amalgamation. With the lack of a uniform model, "we're flying by the seat of our pants," he said.

Some homes worth half a million

Many of the flooded homes in his ward are less than five years old, he said.  

"These are $300-, $400-, $500,000 homes," he said. "They're brand new."

The staff report lacked two words Don McLean wanted to see — climate change.

McLean, an environmentalist and city hall watchdog who lives in Stoney Creek, told councillors there is a worldwide trend toward greater flooding caused by climate change.

"One hundred year storms are supposed to happen every 100 years," he said. With Hamilton's 17 floods, "we're looking at the last 100 months."

Flooding happening 'on a global scale'

Displaying slides showing the most flood-prone regions of the city, McLean said the city has to understand how dangerous the situation can become.

"This appears to be the face of climate change in Hamilton, or at least the first element of it," he said. "It's happening on a global scale."

"It's a bit of a concern that the report in front of you does not mention the words 'climate change.'"

The city has two grant programs to help homeowners deal with flooding.

Since 2005, city council has provided $5 million in compassionate grants for flooded homes. Since 2009, it has provided another $10 million in grants for plumbing that prevents future flooding.